Did you know that police can destroy your home while pursuing criminals and leave you stuck with the damage bill, even if you had no connection whatsoever to the suspect or crime?
That’s the very hard lesson being learned by Leo Lech of Colorado and his family following a 2015 incident in which a shoplifter who had been accused of stealing a shirt was fleeing from police and randomly chose to hide out at Lech’s home. This resulted in the Greenwood Village SWAT team going from room to room ransacking the house with explosives.
After a 19-hour standoff, the Lech home was completely destroyed. It has been described as looking like it was hit by a bulldozer, with doors blown off hinges and not a single window left intact. Their possessions were also destroyed.
According to Lech, “If you look at the photos of Osama Bin Laden’s compound, I would say his house looks better than mine does.”
According to reports, the Greenwood police fired 40mm rounds and gas munition through the windows and drove an armored vehicle through its doors, tossing grenades inside and detonating explosives within the walls.
The family was then offered an insulting $5,000 in housing assistance and compensation for their insurance deductible, which wouldn’t even cover razing the home, not to mention rebuilding it. The home was worth $580,000.
Last year, a federal court refused to compensate the Lechs, even though they had no connection to the crime and did not allow the thief into their home, nor had they broken any law before the police destroyed their home.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the police had been acting in their lawful roles to arrest a criminal suspect and therefore were not liable for the damage. The decision came after three years of litigation.
They then took the matter to the Supreme Court, but the nation’s highest court ultimately proved unsympathetic as they refused to even hear the case in the first place.
A statement by attorney Jeffrey Redfern of the public interest law firm representing the Lech family, the Institute for Justice, expressed his dismay, saying: “If the government requires a piece of property to be destroyed, then the government should pay for it—and that’s just as true regardless of whether the people doing the destroying are the local school board or the local police.”
The Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment is meant to protect citizens from having their property destroyed or taken by the government without being given fair compensation for the loss.
Unfortunately, at the time of the incident, Leo Lech had been renting the home to his son John, his son’s girlfriend and their son. As a result of the destruction, John was then forced to live with his parents, seek a different job, and move his son to another school.
Lech pointed out that if he had been unable to help, his son and his son’s family would have been left homeless. He said the incident completely destroyed their lives, adding: “The way we were treated is barbaric. The whole thing is a debacle of epic proportions.”
Leo Lech did receive $345,000 from his insurance for the damage to the home, but that did not cover all the demolition and other incidental costs or his personal property losses. He also incurred at least $28,000 in attorney’s fees. The Lechs had to take out a $600,000 mortgage on the new house to cover expenses.
Their next-door neighbor’s house, meanwhile, incurred $70,000 worth of damage; their insurance refused to compensate them, and they only got $2,000 from the city.
It’s amazing to think that the lives of several families could be completely upended by police over the theft of a T-shirt that had nothing to do with any of them, and that no one is being held accountable for it.
Sources for this article include: